Why I always take the high road

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I am not what you would call an avid gamer, but I am someone who likes to play video games every once in a while. Well, more than every once in a while, I guess. I’ll get on a kick where I’ll play multiple times a week, and some of those sessions could easily go well into the early morning hours. In fact, I have even fallen asleep with the controller in my hands while my onscreen character stood idle waiting for the command from the omniscient power source.


Sorry about that, Lara. I was tired.

Unless you’ve been in a coma or you’re Amish, video games over the past few decades have become more than just one-dimensional entertainment sources where an incomplete yellow pizza eats dots or an Italian jumps on turtles. There’s more of a moral slant to these games nowadays. Although, I guess you could say there’s a morality decision when controlling a plumber who routinely executes animal abuse in order to save a princess from possible peril. But what trouble was going to befall Princess Peach? She was just standing in a castle. Yes, there was a giant, fire-breathing, infinite-hammer–throwing turtle holding her there, but she wasn’t in chains or anything.

Now that I’m thinking about it, just what the hell was going on in Super Mario Bros.? A plumber and his brother, who may or may not also be a plumber, venture through eight worlds, stomping and kicking animals, and sliding down flagpoles to explore castles full of lava guarded by a spiky-shelled turtle on an easily retractable drawbridge who doesn’t learn his lesson each time he’s dowsed in a molten river. As you progress through the game on a quest to “save the princess,” the docile animals from the beginning who you brutally stomp and kick get so angered that they end up calling in reinforcements who attack you in later levels. And who’s to say they’re not to be justified for attempting to exact death upon the plumbers? Certainly not this player 1. So, you go from castle to castle, sending animals to their doom, only to find midgets who tell you you’re not even in the right castle. And what happens when you get to the right castle and “save” the princess? She brushes you off by saying, “Thank you,” and sends you on another quest.


Yeah, it was a quest, Peach, and I REALLY want to do it all over again.

Even the name of the game doesn’t make sense. They are the Mario brothers. So, Mario Mario and Luigi Mario? Pretty topical talking about a 28-year-old game, huh?

Since those simple days, video games have evolved into an art form, much to the chagrin of art snobs who like to claim that one form of entertainment is more highbrow than another. Within this mixed-media genre are intricate storylines and compelling artwork that can provide the user with experiences beyond merely playing a game. Like reading a book, you can immerse yourself in a story. Like a painting, you can appreciate detail as well as grand landscapes. Like movies, you can watch events unfold. Unlike these other media, though, you can decide what to do and become part of the game world. But here’s where the tough decisions begin.


I was reminded of this recently when I finally finished Red Dead Redemptionand only 3 years after its release (remember, I’m not an avid gamer). As I looked through my stats, I saw that I had less than $23 in bounty for my character’s head. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an open-world western where, outside of missions, you can just live the cowboy life. Wanna ride through town shooting up the place? Go for it! But be prepared that people are going to want you dead after doing that. This affects your Honor Meter, which will change how the people in the world treat your character. Playing as a bad guy won’t change the ending or anything; it’ll just give you some in-game discounts in shady areas and maybe a game achievement.

As you’re riding around, you can choose whether or not to help people, like maybe that guy who just had his horse stolen or save the whore who’s getting beaten up. Or you can go be a bounty hunter and either capture or kill criminals. What do I decide to do in these situations? I go after the horses, I save the whore, and I bring the criminals to justice. Mr. “Goody Two-Shoes” John Marston. And since it’s the old west, there’s even an area where the buffalo roam, but there’s a limited number of them in the game. If you kill them all, they’re gone. No respawning, ever. I killed one, just so I could get one achievement, but I won’t kill all of them for the second achievement.


Poor buffalo.

But let’s take a look at another game where your decisions do make a difference in the storyline.


Ah, Bioshock. One of my favorites. I love the art design. I love the plot. But I wish I could love the moral dilemmas throughout. Well, I do, but I also hate it. In the game, you’re often given this choice.


I rescued this little sister, along with the rest of them. The first one was the hardest decision to make. Should I harvest the ADAM that’s stored within her body, thereby enabling me to become more powerful, or should I rescue her and make her a normal little girl again? It’s just a little orphan girl! I should help her! I can help her! After the first little sister was rescued, there was no going back. I never could bring myself to hit the button for harvest. I wanted to get the good ending where everything turns out all right. And even though I tell myself, "I’ll go back and play through as a right bastard," I know I won’t.

This morality also affects when I play games—when, as in “real-world time.” In Dead Rising, you’re given opportunities, within very tight timelines and outside of the main storyline quest, to go after known survivors and bring them back to the safe area. Saving these people is optional, and I don’t even see how it’s even possible to save everyone, which is likely the point. After all, in a zombie apocalypse, some people won’t make it.
 
 
But I’ve found myself avoiding playing this game and its sequel because I just can’t stand to let these NPCs die without at least trying to save them. I mean, I want to save them, but I don’t have time. Katey needs Zombrex!


Why must I always be good in video games? Because, it just feels right. These games suck me in to a point where I must share my morality with my character because that character is an extension of myself. But that’s not to say that those who take the lower road are inherently bad people. Maybe they just want to see how that side plays out due to curiosity, or maybe they want to go for that extra achievement. There have even been published papers in medical journals that discuss this very fact. The debate about whether or not video games beget violence in the real world even kind of hinges on this behaviors.

I’m not in any kind of study, and I’m not bringing up a new subject that hasn’t ever been discussed. I just wondered why I always decide to be the good guy. Why do I take the high road?

Well, I take the high road because it just feels natural. That’s all.

So, it looks like I’ll always be the good guy, which means:
  • I’ll be the famous cowboy instead of the infamous cowboy
  • All (well, most) of the buffalo will survive
  • I’ll rescue all of the little sisters
  • Katie will get her Zombrex on time

I'll still stomp on turtles, though, because it gives me enjoyment when I fling their shells into the ether.

Put a Cage On It

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For the last, oh 2 or so years, thanks to hipster brands, etsy, and Portlandia, it's been all about the birds. Birds on fabric, birds on artwork, Birds on birds.













In other words...



I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. If it was going to be stuck in my head, I had to share the pain.

But, I think I'm seeing the start of a new era. No longer will we put a bird on it. From here on out, we will put a cage on it...

A NIC CAGE.


















A quick amazon search will yield you not only the handsome pillow above, with which you can lie cheek to cheek with this handsome devil every night for the rest of your life, but also the following:


 





This mug. I don't even know. But If anyone has a face to caricature, it's Cage.









"Your Hair is a Bird" era Cage Cupcake Toppers. Where has this been all my life?















This Tote bag sure knows how to visually represent.










As we all know, it's not hip if it's not on Etsy. 95 Items. 95.

A small selection for your perusing pleasure:





Quite frankly, I'm a little disappointed that the WWND shirt wasn't accompanied by a "Cage is my Copilot" tank top.

So, the next time you're looking for the perfect hipster gifts, cage the bird. Nic cage it. And if anyone's looking for a gift for me, I simply cannot go on living until I have those Nic Cage fake nails.

My journey

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During season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there was an episode called "Normal Again" where the main character (Buffy, of course) was injected, or "venomized" (to use a fake word), by a demon. This causes her to hallucinate another reality, one in which she is not a vampire slayer but just a young adult housed in a mental institution where she plays out fantasies in her head in which she believes she's a vampire slayer.


I'll come back to this in a little while.

The reason I chose to write today is because it's an anniversary of sorts. It's a sort-of happy one but nonetheless one that brings about a lot of unhappy memories. Let me set the scene for you.

July 18, 2012. It's the last day of the heat wave in the northeast, and the hottest day of the year thus far: at least 100 degrees. Anyone who's been to central NJ in the summertime knows that the sun beating down isn't the issue; it's the fact that it feels like you've just walked into an elephant's asshole when you step outside. Not that I know what an elephant's asshole feels like; however, when I think about something sticky, moist, disgusting, and can be extremely stinky, elephant's asshole seems like it fits the bill.

This shouldn't affect me that much, though, because I am at work, a nice air conditioned office. It's a relatively light day workwise. Although it had been crazy the past few weeks trying to update our app (especially for me, trying to pull double duty as an editor and a copywriter on the project), it's in review and away from my desk.

So, normal day. Only one more half day in the office before I take a small extended vacation. Going to see a Batman marathon before The Dark Knight Rises comes out Friday at midnight. I'm online, watching a line of strong thunderstorms move toward Princeton and hopefully take away this heat. Then, I cough.

I had been having these coughs for a few days. The first one I remember was coming home from my first time ever surfing the weekend before. I was driving and had a little cough like I needed to catch my breath a little bit. Nothing big. After all, I had been swimming all morning.

This cough was different. All of a sudden, I felt like I couldn't breathe, even though I knew I was breathing fine. Then, weird stuff. My pulse started racing. My left arm and hand felt like phantom limbs. I started seeing spots and found it hard to formulate thoughts. Was I having a stroke?

Eventually, as I got a ride to the ER, I began to feel a bit better. Waiting, tests, EKG, x-ray, IV. +Kristin shows up. More waiting. I'm freezing in this ER. A thunderstorm is raging outside. I start having a panic attack, but finally calm down. End result: discharged with no confirmed diagnosis. What it could have been? A big ol', grand mal, run-of-the-mill panic attack. What is definitely wasn't? A stroke or heart attack.

I go home. Little do I know that my life as I knew it was about to change.

This is where Buffy comes in. "Normal Again" shows dual personalities between a superhero and a mentally disturbed woman. We see both sides, as does Buffy, who can no longer determine what is real and what isn't real after a traumatic experience. I can identify with that. I looked around my house that night and things didn't seem real. Nothing seemed important. I dream-walked through the next few weeks as I made cardiologist, pulmonologist, primary care, and psychiatrist appointments (more about the last one in a few). But it wasn't necessarily a dream-walk; more like I nightmare-walked. How, you ask?

Yay, Buffy again! In the season 4 episode "Hush" (seriously, watch it if you've never seen it; it's a great piece of television), everyone in Sunnydale loses their ability to speak, courtesy of a group of demons called The Gentlemen. Their goal is to cut the still-beating hearts, smiling as they do so, out of the townspeople, who can do nothing but silently scream in fear.


As of last year, I've known this fear. The night before I was to go get my results from both the cardiologist and pulmonologist, I began shaking uncontrollably, as if I had no control over my central nervous system. The next day, both results came back normal. So, how could I be normal if I felt this way? The fear was now in control. I could only drive in the right lane because I was afraid of driving fast. I went to work each day hoping I could just make it another 2 hours. I cried uncontrollably at night. I cursed God, wondering how I could go from having a great life (wonderful wife, loving family, nice house, good job) to thinking it meant nothing and held no enjoyment at all for me. I couldn't eat, and I ended up having to force myself to eat at certain times to survive. I lost weight.

But over time, things did start to get better. Although, it's still hard trying to find help. My primary care doctor gave me a prescription for escitalopram, which helped with anxiety but killed my short-term memory, my creativity, and my emotions. I also started gaining more weight. And a psychiatrist? Ha! I called everyone on the list from my insurance company. If it wasn't an inpatient hospital, they weren't accepting new patients. If they were accepting new patients, they didn't accept my insurance. I finally found a therapist who was helping me, but issues with insurance caused me to stop seeing him. Eventually, I found a clinical social worker at a place that takes my insurance, but of course, after one session, I discover that she isn't covered by my insurance.

As of today, I still haven't seen anyone regularly, but that might change in about a month or so. And the pills? I'm trying to wean myself off of them. I've learned a lot in the past year: how to stave off (not necessarily control) anxiety, meditation, not to care so much about the unimportant stuff. Things seem real, but I'm not the same person I was. I want to get back there, but with everything I've learned since then. Was I afraid of not being in control? Was I afraid of dying now that everything was going so well in my life? I have no idea.

I can look at the clock at 2 pm at work now and not panic like I used to, but it's not the same. I'm more positive now, though. I still have setbacks and bouts where I need to feel like I need to be in control even when I can't be.

The main thing, though, is that it's been a year and I'm still here. That, I can be happy about.

Why I'm now afraid to poop in my own house

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I know what you're thinking. Toilet snakes. Nope, nothing came up out of the toilet and bit me on the bum.

Now, before I tell this story, let me tell you that if you are squeamish about poop, 1. Why are you reading this blog? 2. Don't read this post. 3. Get over yourself. Poop is often funny, sometimes horrifying, but is always a fact of life. Every living organism poops. You poop.

Poop.

So, over the 4th of July weekend, we had friends visit with us. Please note, I am in no way implicating or blaming said friends for my new-found poop fear. I am just setting the stage for exactly how horrifying this was.

The weekend was wonderful. We ate outside, we visited the shore, we watched movies. We had a nice, relaxing time. Until "the incident."

Sunday morning, I woke up with a plan in my head to fix us all breakfast before our friends hit the road to head home. My usual routine in the morning involves a visit to the bathroom to take out my mouth guard (I grind my teeth at night), take my morning pills (so I don't sneeze all over the place, among other things), etc.

I head into the bathroom, start my routine, and realize that the bathroom smells...off. Maybe one of the cats just visited the litter box? Did someone get sick after I woke up at 6 to feed them breakfast? I knew it wasn't the toilet, as D and I were both sound asleep until just now.

And then...I see it. Our corner garden tub. It's got...poo water in it. Now the smell has overpowered me and I'm running into the bedroom shouting about poop in the bathtub and that I'm going to throw up from the smell.

Logic eventually came back to me, and we realized we obviously needed to plunge the tub as step #1 in the process. The plunger. In the guest bathroom. Now I have to knock on the door and tell my friends I need the plunger. They're going to think I took a giant shit first thing in the morning and stopped up the toilet. In all honesty, I wish it would have been that over what we had, or what I soon found out we had.

*Knock knock* "Hey...Sorry to bother you guys, but can I grab the plunger? We have..a...uh...situation going on with our bathtub."

"Did the toilet back up into the tub? It did that in here, we had to plunge it."

*Cue me dying of shame*

MY GUESTS HAD TO PLUNGE POOP OUT OF THE SHOWER SO THEY COULD BATHE IN MY HOUSE.

After being resuscitated, I took the plunger, took care of business, washed my hands 10 times, and cooked everyone breakfast.

We managed to resolve things without an emergency plumber call on a Sunday, and so far so good. But let's be honest, would you want to poop in your own house when the possible result is poop in the bathtub? I thought I would have to wait for babies before knowing the joy of poop where poop is not supposed to be.

Needless to say, I'm currently terrified of pooping in my own house, so if you spot me at a Starbucks or a bookstore early in the morning or late at night, get out of my way. I have an appointment with a tub-free public bathroom.


Dickie and The Man: If only NBC had snagged the pilot.

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What appears below is an IM conversation between myself (Dickie*) and a friend of mine (The Man) about how my marriage would fare as a sitcom.


The Man:
I love hearing about you 2. It's like watching a comedy.

Dickie: 
Sometimes I think that, but it's nice to know that others think that too. Sometimes I sit back and think, man we are fucking hilarious.
The Man:  
Yes...but you have laugh tracks. I hate laugh tracks.
Dickie: 
Aww man, we do? I thought we were quirky enough not to need one.
The Man: 
You're on Fox.
Dickie: 
FUCK. We're gonna get cancelled. We're too smart for Fox viewers.
The Man:  
They are moving you to Fridays.
Dickie:  
KISS OF DEATH
The Man:  
Comedy Central is interested...but they want a gay Black roommate.
Dickie:  
Maybe we can convince FX to pick us up? Or we could start swearing a lot more and move to HBO. But then we'd need a gay nude roommate.
The Man: 
Scene 1: You enter your house unexpected, and there is Tyrone (roommate) in a G-string dance with a cat in each hand and one on his head.
Dickie:  
Tyrone needs a catch phrase.
The Man:  
Wha-What!
Dickie: 
Kookier.
The Man:  
"I do declare"
Dickie: 
That tests well with the gay southern audience we're targeting.
The Man: 
"Ballstastic!"
Dickie:  
That's my tagline. I CLAIM IT.
The Man: 
I do declare that's ballstastic.

*Dickie is my maiden name, and still my name/nickname in many a circle of friends.


Just call me The Rocket

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For anyone who knows me, you know that there are many words that can be used to describe me, none of which include: athletic, sporty, fitness buff.

I hate the gym. People tell me time and again that you just have to get into a routine with it, once you start feeling better you'll like it. No. It never happens. The gym is an awful, smelly, hamster-wheel for humans place where my joy goes to die. And trust me, I've tried. I've done months and months at a gym, including a personal trainer, and never seen results or felt good enough to keep it up.

I do, however, enjoy doing things that may be described as sporty, even though I am not sporty. I love to ride bikes, I love to hike (not walk or run because ew). I guess outdoorsy is a better description.

Anyway, this is all just a setup to tell you all that tomorrow I will be participating in Paddle for Pink, meaning that I get to, along with 19 other people, race a dragon boat.

Now, when I first heard this, I pictured this:

Pretty fucking amazing, right? I mean you're basically pretending to be a dragon skimming the surface of a lake as you prepare to breathe fire on some village who did you wrong by stealing your dragon eggs or spearing your dragon mate in the face or something.

In actuality, as I learned at practice yesterday, most dragon boats for events such as this look more like this:

So you can imagine my initial disappointment that I couldn't make fire-breathing dragon noises whilst paddling.*

Luckily, aside from the boat not looking like a full-on dragon, practice was amazing. We were prepped by our practice "coach" and steerer Gus. Gus was excessively chatty, but he knows his shit. He assessed our group and picked out our strokers (the guys at the front of the boat that set the pace), our engine (aka the big strong burly men), and at the back of the boat, the rocket (thus named because all the water being pushed by the rows in front is coming at you, so you must paddle deeper and faster into the water to keep pace).

For some reason, probably because Gus had no idea that I am the opposite of athletic, he put me in the rocket position. I was scared. I am not one who likes to fail. I want to learn things perfectly the first time and impress everyone. I listened intently to Gus' instructions, and asked him again when we were in the boat. I focused on every detail. I became The Rocket.


I wasn't perfect, but I learned a lot in our 45 minute practice. I was soaking wet by the end and I had a decent grasp of my duties and the issues I had to focus on for Saturday's races. 

As we broke, Gus gave us a pat on the back and talked about what we need to remember on Saturday. He looked at me and said that for my first practice, I had learned a lot and done a great job. I took that to mean that I was the fastest-trained rocket he had ever met, and that everyone from here on out should refer to me reverentially as The Rocket.

*I know those boats have small dragon heads on them. Our training boat didn't, but I believe there will be some sort of dragon head on our event-day boat. But I want a huge, epic, colorful dragon head, not some wussy dragon head that breathes matchstick fires.

An open letter to the state of Florida

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Dear Florida,

You call yourself the sunshine state, but nearly every time I have been to visit, it has rained. Sometimes only a little bit, sometimes for my entire stay. Sometimes so hard the power goes out and I have to eat my steak in the dark.

Your state is in 2 time zones, because it is the dumbest shape a state could ever have. You look like a toy gun drawn by a 4-year-old using his non-dominant hand. Your shape is so non-stately that people call you America's wang.

I have never visited the part of Florida that is in the central time zone, because the parts of Florida I do visit has more than enough tattooed rednecks to satisfy my craving for people-watching. After all the old people I observed in Orlando, I thought "nothing could top this!" Then I visited the gulf coast. This is where Florida hides all the people that live 365 days a year in trucker hats and oversized tank tops. I'm 75% sure these are the people inside the costumes at Disney, but I hug them anyway.

Your state bird is the Northern Mockingbird, even though your state has the largest breeding population of bald eagles in the contiguous US. Bald Eagles are majestic, powerful creatures, whereas mockingbirds are grey but the sound pretty. Come to think of it, stick with the mockingbird. (I could also bring up flamingos here as well, but that seems too easy).

You're sticky. You're hurricane-y. Every flight in and out of your state is full of sticky, shouting, poorly supervised children. You are where Northeasterners go to live out their golden years because it's cheap, and thanks to their poor circulation they don't realize they are slowly cooking themselves to death in your stewpot atmosphere.

Like any place, you have some positives. Disneyworld and Universal Studios are fun, and I hear Key West is a blast. But even these come with their own sets of issues (It's a Small World, Margaritaville, etc.). You have Cape Canaveral, probably because people would rather blast off into space than be stuck in Florida.

What it ultimately comes down to is the fact that anything I could do in Florida, I can do somewhere else and enjoy it more. What you need is some sort of draw that will bring back people like me, people who visit Florida only out of family obligation and not by choice. I have a few ideas for you.

1. Play up the gator factor. I mean, I know there are places to eat gator, places to see gators, but honestly, this should be everywhere. I should be able to ride a gator at Disney while eating gator on a stick. Quite frankly, I should be able to feed gator to a gator while eating gator on a gator. Gator.

2. Play up the croc factor. What, no crocs in Florida? GET SOME.

3. Put a dome on it. Get on the artificial atmostphere already. Get rid of the mega-humidity, make it only rain at night when no one cares, the benefits are endless. Plus no more crying when a frost kills all the oranges.

4. Maybe export something other than oranges?

5. Get back into the boy-band business. Remember how Florida used to churn out Disney stars, Nickelodeon stars, and premade boy bands? Call up Lou Perlman and get him on the next big thing. This won't really gain much appeal with people such as myself, but kids can make parents do anything, and going to see the next hottie pop sensation in Orlando will be easy once you get that dome working.

6. Hide the old people.

7. Become your own country. Everyone likes to visit foreign tropical locales. Plus, if this doesn't work, at least the U.S. got rid of you.

Florida, despite our differences, I hope you will take the time to consider my constructive feedback. I'm only trying to help.


The adjustability quandary

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A few years back, +Kristin Ciszeski and I went on a random road trip to Cleveland. Why Cleveland? Why not? It was somewhere neither of us had been to, and we were looking for a cheap trip with a fairly short drive.

While there, we went to an Indians game and had a great time. To show some hometown spirit, I bought a baseball cap and a baseball to commemorate our trip. It was then that we decided that because she travels a lot and we have fun going to games, we should try to hit every baseball park. It's one of those goals that is technically achievable to do without going completely out of our way. For example, she has already had a meeting in Chicago and has work commitments in two more cities with MLB teams. I do cheat a little bit: I may visit the park, but I don't actually have to see a game. When we went to Seattle two years ago, I basically ran into the team store to pick up my hat and baseball.



It was in Chicago a few weekends back that led me to write up this post. I had walked from Millennium Park to Wrigley Field on a beautiful spring day to grab a few pictures and pick up my requisite gear. Tired from the walk, I nearly cried when reaching my destination because I could finally take a rest and just browse through all of the available Cubs merchandise.

I made my way through the store looking at the stickers on all of the hats:
  • Fitted
  • Snapback
  • Adjustable
  • Stretch
  • One size
  • 7 1/2
  • 7 3/4
...and so on.

Here's where I complain about my taste in hats. I like the Velcro back. Why? Well, when companies claim "one size fits all," they aren't talking about my head. I don't feel like I have an exceptionally large head. People don't confuse me for Joseph Merrick (unaffectionately known as the Elephant Man) or one of the aliens from Mars Attacks. It's just not my size.

Not a self-portrait

Sized hats are also an issue for me. Like whenever I buy pants or jeans, I always feel like the perfect size is somewhere in the middle. Too bad there isn't a sticker that says "Irregular." Somehow I feel like that size would be right up my alley. Besides, I actually have hair on my head. Sometimes short, sometimes longer. That also affects the size I need. If I had a buzz cut for the rest of my life, I guess a sized hat would be perfect. Alas, it is not.

Fitted hats, meanwhile, just flat out suck for me. I equate it to wearing briefs, as in underwear, on your head. It has that elastic feeling like it's hugging the skull for dear survival from such things as wind gusts or, you know, trying to take it off. Stretch hats are kind of the same way. I don't feel like I need to show off the buxom curves of my head.

Snapbacks? I'm not a trucker. I'm also not 12 years old and play on a Little League team. Pass.

That leaves me with adjustable. Perfect, right? Well, hold on there now. Adjustable hats have many different sublevels. Would you like a buckle on the back of it? How about a plastic or cloth loop? It would help to have that on the shiny sticker affixed to the brim. But no, most stores don't.

So what do I like? Velcro. It's a wonderful invention, especially for hats. Want to make the hat a little looser on the fly? You don't even have to take the hat off your head. One quick zip and you're good to go. No fumbling with a buckle. No trying to force the rest of the belt into the small slit on the size. If you like to wear your hat backwards, as I do from time to time, there's no metal buckle digging into your forehead. Also, the hat is sturdier and, in some instances, shows the name of the team on the Velcro strap.

So why is this such an issue? Why don't I just get the Velcro hat? Because these stickers are misleading. Take my situation at the Cubs team store. I looked through all the hats that had a sticker that said "Adjustable." I found one. ONE! Plainest looking hat you could find. Just had a "C" on it in the team colors. It wasn't even the real iconic Cubs logo. Of course, had I wanted a flat-brimmed fitted to wear sideways and look like a douchebag (henceforth known as "doucheways"), I had my pick of every Cubs logo and every color in the Pantone catalog.

Kinda boring

Fast forward to the next day when we attended a White Sox game. Same situation. I found one hat, very boring, with the Velcro backing in the team store. I wasn't giving up this easily, though. We had time before the game, so we circled the park looking in each store: hat stands, little shops, etc. As I was about the resign myself to a boring hat, my lovely wife made a discovery: some of the "One size" stickers were on hats with Velcro hats! Well, WTF and FML! So, apparently "Adjustable" and "One size" can refer not only to different things but also to the same things, like a Velcro strap. Magic. Finding that out was like getting lost in a giant parking garage for hours only to come upon an elevator that takes you right to your car. Doors became opened! Birds sang!

I bought a great White Sox hat and enjoyed my time at the game, adjusting my hat with that little zip every time I needed to do so.

I've learned my lesson, and hopefully I can help someone else out with this very problem. Forget the sticker. Arrive early and sift through all of the hats until you find the perfect one, because apparently those stickers are useless. People must get lulled in because those stickers are pretty and shiny. That must be why people leave them on the hat brims when they wear them doucheways.

Liars!

It's best not to go back

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Tonight I was handed a disappointment that pretty much shook the foundation of what I've built my life upon over the past twenty years.

And before you say anything, yes, I'm likely being melodramatic and pissy, but the way I'm feeling right now is equal parts fury, disappointment, and sadness. I felt that if I tried to bury it inside or feign letting it go--or hell, even trying to let it go--I would fail spectacularly.

I had been looking forward to this evening for months. Tonight was the night that The Breeders would be in Philadelphia, with their 1993 lineup, playing the "Last Splash" album in its entirety to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

You may remember The Breeders. They had the single "Cannonball." For some, that was the last you heard of them. For me, it was only one of many songs I loved. I've collected all their albums, even some of their singles and EPs. I've seen them in concert a few times. I could not wait for this show. "Last Splash" is as perfect of an album as I've ever heard.

We waited outside The Trocadero in Philadelphia, a place I hadn't been to in 16 years. We went in. I bought some merch. We headed to the balcony. And there we waited, with a solid view of the stage. 9:15 rolls around and The Breeders start playing. I'm grinning like a fool and enjoying the hell out of the experience. I'm taking some pictures with my little Canon Powershot. I'm feeling the rhythm. Everything's great.

Near the end of the set for the "Last Splash" album, I'm taking another picture when a staff member comes over to me and grabs my camera. She tells me there's no photography and she's taking my camera to the box office where I can pick it up after the show. Now, this comes as a surprise to me, considering when we walked into the venue, I emptied my pockets and had the camera in my hand. She asks for my ID, takes it and the camera, and walks away. A few songs go by, and my anger over the incident deepens. It's compounded with the fact that not 3 yards away people are shooting video with their iPhones of the show.

The staff member comes back, hands me my ID, and says that they deleted all the photos per band management. That was it for me. Fine, tell me there is no photography, but to treat me like a criminal and invade my privacy by going through my camera's memory card? Unforgivable.

I had enough. We were leaving. I gave Kristin my merch, asked her to return it, and went to go get my camera. I said to the woman in the box office that if there wasn't going to be any photography, they should put more signs up. She shrugged and was indifferent. Another staff member said there indeed was a sign. It was on the back wall of the box office. That one wasn't specific to the band, though. Whatever, damage was done.

Strangely, that wasn't the first time I had an issue at the Trocadero. Back in 1995, 15-year-old me was at a concert and was singled out by security twice wondering why I was holding a strange-shaped object under my arm. The object in question were T-shirts I had bought at that venue.

Consider this my therapy session over this incident. It's sad to say that not only was my night ruined but also my love for The Breeders is gone. Now I cannot listen to that album without thinking of tonight. That album had always made me happy. It took me back to a simpler time in my life. Yes, I agree that this seems melodramatic, but as I said to Kristin on the way home, it's like finding out that your favorite relative has a dark secret. You just can't look at him the same way, no matter how many great times you shared. All you feel is hurt.

It's easy to think what if I had just left my camera at home, or if I hadn't taken a picture at that time (I was even being considerate and not using a flash), or a myriad of other possible outcomes? This was shaping up to be one of the best concert experiences of my life, but unfortunately it ended up bookending a period of my life. I do feel better that I didn't end up spending money on their reissue of the album.

Goodbye, Breeders. You can feel safer now knowing that the next time I take a picture of someone, it won't be of you.

Thank you, Zane Lamprey

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Now, I've never met Zane Lamprey, Pleepleus, or Steve McKenna, but as anyone who has watched Three Sheets or Drinking Made Easy, I feel as though I know these fine fellows (and primate). They've done things in bars most of wish to do, and Steve has drunk more than I think I can ever dream of consuming in my lifetime. And being able to sabre a champagne bottle? That's just badass.

Whenever we travel to a new city, we do our research - we yelp, we google, we go old fashioned and ask our friends. We also consult the masters of the local bar - and we Lamprey it.

For my 30th birthday, D decided to take me away for a weekend. We've been meaning to visit Montreal for some time, and coincidentally their annual lights festival fell around my birthday. So, we booked a hotel, I updated my passport, and we took a scenic 5ish hour drive from NJ to Montreal.

For a moment when we approached the Canadian border, I was pretty sure the border patrol guy thought we were smuggling something and was going to ask us to open our trunk, but we were let through without issue. As soon as I pulled through, I went through the wrong lane in got stuck, had to turn the car around, backtrack toward the border stations, and find my way out into Canada. Why I wasn't instantly surrounded by 10 Dudley Do-Rights is beyond me.

So, Montreal. It's cold, and it's constantly snowing, yet everyone is walking and driving with not a single apparent concern regarding the frozen precipitation falling from the ground (take note America!). I won't go into a full summary of our time there, because you're not my family and you're not being held hostage by a photo slideshow set to cheesy music at some holiday gathering, but suffice to say that it was a wonderfully nice time and I can't wait to go back.

What I do want to tell you all about, is La Distillerie (http://www.pubdistillerie.com/). La Distillerie is a true bar - no food to be had, plenty of drinks to be drunk. If it were in NYC, they would tell you that the bartenders are mixologists and the drinks would come in ridiculously fancy, yet small glasses, and they'd cost $30. But lo, this is Montreal. The happy hour special is a large giant mason jar:



They do not play around. They measure, shake, and serve out of mostly mason jars. And these are not your normal cocktail. These are some of the best drinks I have ever tasted.

So, our intent the day we visited La Distillerie was to stop in and have A cocktail. One. Then we'd head back to our hotel to relax for a bit (we had been out and about all day in the cold), and then get ready for a romantic birthday dinner.

Here's what actually happened. I got completely McKenna'd. When the place opened, there was already a line, but D and I were the only 2 people who sat at the bar vs tables. We ordered 2 drinks (small, not the whopper size above), and started chatting with the bartenders (as we are apt to do). While chatting with one, the other started mixing a cocktail, which she poured into a martini glass and set in front of us. The recipe had been in her head for a while and she wanted to try it out. Free booze? Yes please!

This should have been our first sign that our well intentioned plan was well, completely boned.

After our first round, we put round 2 in the hands of the bartenders, telling them what we liked (me - gin, sour/tart, not too sweet; D - tequila, spicey) and got some even more amazing drinks.

Yes, those are hot peppers. Yes, D ate one - only because the bartender joined in. Yes, they were very hot.

I lied, there is food - yummy yummy goldfish. That's a gin mojito. Fuck off, rum, you're not needed here.

Somewhere between round 2 and 3, we did shots with the bartenders. One of them wrote down a recipe for me and a list of other good area bars. We bought t-shirts. Eventually we realized we had to leave, and said a fond "see you next time" and stumbled out into the cold.

Somehow, we managed to walk back to our hotel. While D pushed back out dinner reservations, I found a second wind and sobered up in the shower.

Dinner was amazing, but I still think our time at La Distillerie was the best part of our visit to Montreal. And for that, I thank Zane, Steve, and Pleepleus.

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